Communities on the Internet have been popular for many years and are facilitated with an interactive forum. Visitors can become a member and start new discussions with other members. Moderators maintain the forum’s content. Because communities make it easy to get and share common problems and answers quickly, many SharePoint customers requested the ability to create such communities in SharePoint.
Previous versions of SharePoint contained the discussion board. Let’s be honest: This was a poor man’s version of a real community. The options were extremely limited, and I didn’t see many companies make a lot of use of it. Third parties created custom forum solutions, such as the Social Squared web part from Lightning Tools. Codeplex.com has similar solutions.
SharePoint 2013 comes with a new site template called the Community Site. Can this finally be a decent and fully functional forum within SharePoint? This article describes the configuration of a Community Site and provides tips and tricks for building a vibrant community.
Wait a second!
Before I dive into the configuration of the Community Site, make sure you consider the following three decisions.
Site or site collection?
You can create a Community Site as a site collection or a site. I advice to always use a site collection. In a follow up article I will explain why you should follow this approach.
One or more communities?
Another question you have to ask is who will participate in the community and what the purpose of your community should be. For example, the company I work for has multiple business units:
- Enterprise Consultancy
- Business Intelligence
Each team has multiple subjects to discuss. For instance, the SharePoint team might talk about the following topics:
- SharePoint Development
- SharePoint Infrastructure
- SharePoint End Users
Do you want all of the subjects from the three (or even more) teams in one community? Most likely, the answer is no. No problem, because you have the option to create a separate community for each business unit with specific topics tailored to each team’s interests within each community.
Is your community going to be open or closed? For an open community, you can enable auto-approval so every user can become a community member. In the case of a closed community, you can set a request for approval, which must be submitted by anyone who wants to be a member. In this case, the owner of the community has to confirm the request.
You are now in charge of creating a new community! Don’t be afraid, because Microsoft made this really easy. Let’s get going!
The new Community Site comes with a helpful tools section:
Figure 1: The available community tools
The first part of our configuration is defining categories.
You’ll want to use a description and a picture for every category. This makes the categories more informative and interactive, as illustrated in the following example:
Figure 2: Am overview of all the categories within the community
To create a category click on Create categories and new item:
Figure 3: Create a new category
Enter the corresponding information about the category and click on Save:
Figure 4: The new category is ready to be used
To change the properties of a category, click on Site Actions, Site Settings and Managed Categories.
Moderator? Development Expert? InfoPath Fanatic? Event Organizer? These are examples of badges users can be assigned. This fantastic feature makes a community more interactive and really involves the members. We advise using at least a badge for moderators so members always know who to turn to in case of problems or questions. To create a badge, click on Badges and new item:
Figure 5: Create a new badge
To assign a badge to a community member you have to click on Assign badges to members in Community tools section:
Figure 6: Overview of the community members
Select the member by clicking before the picture of the member:
Figure 7: Select a member to assign a badge
Click in the ribbon on Moderation and Give Badge:
Figure 8: Assign the corresponding badge to the community member
Assign the badge and click on Save.
The reputation settings enable users to rate content and allow the configuration of the achievement point system. Click on Reputation settings:
Figure 9: Configure the rating settings
Ratings comes in the form of Likes or Stars. I recommend enabling the rating feature.
Figure 10: Configure the achievement settings
It’s also useful to configure the achievement point system, level points and representation. These settings make the community more interactive and fun to use for your community members.
For Community settings, you have three options:
- Set the start date of the community
- Auto approval of join requests (for a closed community)
- Reporting of offensive content
I advise you to enable the third option so moderator features are supported.
Before you launch your new community don’t forget to provide additional information about the goal and rules of the community. Click in the quick launch on About:
Figure 11: Introduce your community to your new members
Click on Site Actions and Edit Page to change the introduction text:
Figure 12: Don’t forget to save your changes
Spread the word
It’s now time to open the community and welcome new members! You can use the Share button, at the top navigation, to share the community with your colleagues:
Figure 13: Share the community with your colleagues
You can also ask your SharePoint Administrator to use a promoted link in the Sites tab:
Figure 14: Promote the community in the Sites tab
Join and leave the community
Before a colleague can join the community, he or she has to click on the following button:
Figure 15: Click on the button to join the community
They can then immediately start creating and replying to discussions. Members can leave the community by clicking in the quick launch on Members and Leave this community:
Figure 16: Leave the community with one click
If a member decides to return to the community, he or she maintains the same achievement points upon re-entry.
Every community member can create a new discussion:
Figure 17: Ask your fellow members a question
Do you notice the option Question? By selecting this option, members are able to mark a particular response as Best reply. The chosen reply is now displayed under the first post, above the rest of the less helpful responses:
Figure 18: See the best reply to the question
The owner of the community and the author of the discussion can always remove a reply marked as Best reply
Your colleagues have heard about the new community and new members are arriving! How does the interaction work within a discussion? Apart from using text, members can use the ribbon to add a picture in the reply. Is a picture not enough? Why not add a YouTube video, as you can see in the following example:
Figure 19: Add a YouTube video within a reply
These are the features members expect from a vibrant and interactive community.
Moderators are an important part of any community. They are assigned to keep the peace and apply the rules. To enable moderation, you must activate the option reporting of offensive content. Click in the Community Tools menu on Community settings:
Figure 20: Enable the moderator feature
By enabling this feature a new SharePoint group called Moderators is created. You have to add the members you want to assign as moderators to this SharePoint group. Click on Site Actions, Site Settings and Site permissions:
Figure 21: Add moderators to the corresponding SharePoint group
Click on the Moderators group and add to employee who is going to take up the moderator role. I also recommend assigning a moderator badge to every selected moderator. Otherwise it won’t be clear for the other community members who the moderator is. A moderator can see the option Review reported posts in the Community tools overview. He or she can choose from a couple of options:
- Review Reports: The whole reply is visible and can be edited, deleted or dismissed. All of the other reports about this reply are also visible
- Edit post: The moderator can edit the post, but note that after the edit, nobody can see that a moderator edited the reply. There is no notification to alert members that the reply has been edited by a moderator.
- Delete post: The moderator can delete the entire reply.
- Dismiss: The moderator can dismiss the report. Again, there is no notification to inform members about this update.
The community member whose comment or reply is edited never receives any notification of the moderator’s changes. Changed a reply? There is absolutely no indication a moderator has done so. If you want members to know that a moderator had taken an action, you have to instruct your moderators to mark their remarks, for example, in red. Similarly, the moderators also don’t receive an email or other notification about reported posts. Moderators must actively look to see if any posts have been reported.
Members can browse through the community by using the quick launch:
Figure 22: The quick launch is accessible at the left side of the site
Let’s take a look at the different pages.
The home page of the community displays recent discussions with statistics such as the author, number of replies and likes. Members can filter discussions based at what’s hot, their own discussions, unanswered questions, discussions with best replies and featured. The owner and the moderators of the community can mark a discussion as featured. These are really useful filters, especially when communities become bigger and more popular!
We already discussed how to create new categories. The categories section shows all of them. Members have a couple of filter options such as alphabetical order, what’s hot and recent. What’s hot is based on the number of discussions and replies within a category. The right section shows some statistics and the top contributors:
Figure 23: An overview of the categories and top contributors
The member’s overview provides every community member with filter options such as top contributors, new members and alphabetical order. The right side displays the statistics of the logged in member:
Figure 24: See your community statistics
He or she can always decide to leave the community and can easily rejoin at any moment and retain reputation points.
The last part is the about page of the community. This often contains a short description of the community.
The Community Site is a huge step forward from the discussion board. It contains all of the features users expect: the ability to reply with pictures and videos, categories and a moderator system. The achievements system also makes community participation a lot more fun for active members!
While Community Site is exciting, a couple of issues with the final product remain:
- No outline of replies: All the replies, apart from best reply, are displayed under each other with no hierarchy. This makes it confusing to easily see a reply to a reply
- No quoting: Users have no option to quote a reply
- No e-mails: There isn’t an e-mail configuration menu such as in the My Site. Moderators should receive an email when a member reports a reply. The member doesn’t receive an e-mail about actions taken by the moderator
- No moderator remarks: Once a moderator has edited a reply, there isn’t a clear notification this happened;
- No close option: There isn’t an option to close a discussion. It can only be deleted.
The Community Site template is also available in SharePoint Online 2013 and contains the same set of features.
Original post at IT Unity.